Dharma, Yoga Life, and Permaculture
written by Srinivasan, director Sivananda Ashram Yoga Ranch
Yoga is right living. We practice yoga so that we can be not only healthier in body and mind, but that we can live in peace and harmony with our environment and all of our relationships. The teachings of Bhagavad Gita, of Ramayana, of Mahabharata, and of our gurus, Swami Vishnudevananda and Swami Sivananda are showing us the way to “Divine Life”, to a life of Dharma.
As war and technology have broken are connection with sustainable living, Permaculture is a successful approach to applying skills which both protect nature and care for people. We are fortunate enough to have two brilliant innovators and teachers of Permaculture – Julia and Charles Yelton to annually teach a Permaculture Design Course at the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Ranch. Julia and Charles understand the deep connection between the Permaculture approach to dharmic living and that of Yoga.
We would like to share with you a little of that connection and to heartily invite you to join in the upcoming Yoga and Permaculture Design Course. This course is more than the sum of the parts. It is a course in Dharma for the 21st Century.
What is Dharma?
Dharma is sustainable living – life in balance. That which sustains life is Dharma. That which promotes integrity, health, relationship, happiness, love, truth and peace is Dharma. Dharma in nature is instinctual. Nature organizes itself in patterns, ecosystems, renewable energy flow, leaves no waste that is not a resource further in the cycle of life. The seasons, life cycles demonstrate the gunas flowing in balance. Growth, homeostasis, and decay are the eternal qualities by which nature maintains balance while continuously changing – like a flowing river. Every living organism; every cell and organ within every organism, lives in the midst of life cycles, energy cycles, chemical cycles that follow nature’s laws of sustainability or Dharma.
Yet man breaks all laws of health, ecology, pattern, rhythm and cycle of Life. Most modern “developed world” physical, mental and spiritual disease is caused by lifestyle inbalances, and pollution of the environment by unsustainable farming, industry, transportation, energy, housing and war. Life out of balance is “adharma” - binding, diseased and unsustainable.
What is Yoga?
Yoga Life leads to physical, mental and spiritual health. Swami Vishnudevananda summarized healthy, dharmic living in five points:
proper exercise – asanas
proper breathing – pranayama
proper relaxation – savasana
proper diet – vegetarian
positive thinking and meditation - vedanta and dhyana
and, the four yogas:
karma yoga – Yoga of selfless service
bhakti yoga – Yoga of Divine Love or devotion.
raja yoga – Yoga of self-mastery through Hatha Yoga and meditation.
jnana yoga – Positive thinking to realize the universal nature of Self
What is Permaculture?
Permaculture is caring for people and the planet. Permaculture has developed principles by which people can live a culture of Dharma acknowledging that industrial and post-industrial society has lost its moorings in natural sustainability. Just as the Five Points of Yoga would be natural if we lived within the natural laws of health, and serve as a road map for a sick civilization back to health, Permaculture principles follow natural laws of sustainability that can help us reestablish our relationship with the natural systems of the planet.
Swami Vishnudevananda and Permaculture
One of the main focuses of Swami Vishnuji's later Peace Missions was the theme of Survival into the 21st Century and United we stand, divided we perish. Swamiji saw even then that the priorities of our civilization are topsy-turvy. We need a change in attitude, a change in lifestyle, and practical techniques to put those changes into practice. Already by the end of July, 1980, Swami Vishnudevananda organized a symposium called “Into the 21st Century”. He invited some of the foremost visionaries of the time. Bill Mollison, the founder of the Permaculture movement, was on the cutting edge of sustainability at the time having just published his Permaculture I and II.
By 1980 Swami Vishnudevananda had seen the coming decline of the fossil fuel economy, and was leading our headquarters in Val Morin to prepare for a self-sufficient future. He had cleared a large area for farming. We had two large greenhouses so that we could grow in the winter. The stream that ran through the property had been redirected so as to create the Master's pond and the pond at Swami Vishnu's house, as well as to provide for the irrigation of the ashram's gardens. Swamiji had designed his house with an attached greenhouse/sun room where we held winter satsangs and was filled with plants. He had solar panels and passive solar heating for his house. He even had a water wheel and fountains gravity fed from the stream. Swamiji trained us to do our own maintenance and would not tolerate waste.< We could see the natural connection between Swamiji's vision of peace and the Permaculture principles.
- Peace missions to actively demonstrate that with commitment, compassion and creativity we can remove the barriers that we created with negative thinking, hatred and fear.
- Waste is sin. The wealth we have is a gift and the result of hard work. To throw it away as “garbage” or to squander resources is the opposite.
- Yoga Teachers Training Course change fabric of society thread by thread by teaching disciplines of healthy life-styles and positive thinking not only to our students, but to send them out to teach Yoga to others. He literally sent Yoga viral.
- Fixing old cars. Coming from a culture where middle-class people save for years to buy a car that they will use for many more years and see our throw away car culture, Swamiji, bought a Buick that was built in 1927 – the same year he was born and kept it as a reminder of how need to maintain all of our possessions like our body.
- Farm for the Yoga Camp. Swamiji bought a tractor and an old farm near the Camp with the idea of self-suffiency.
- SAMA community – Sivananda Ashram Membership Association was started in the mid 1980’s with ashram land subdivided for families to build their homes adjacent to ashram; for householders not ready to live a full monastic life of ashram to make their own living while participating in the ashram group practice and karma yoga.
- Yoga Ranch Colony – Swami Vishnudevananda opened the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Ranch here in New York with the expressed intention that the ashram be open to families integrated into the ashram lifestyle – a colony for Yoga Life.
- Storing Food – We have always been encouraged to store food to be ready for disasters.
- Cottage Industries – To make sure that the ashrams were self-sufficient, Swamiji started local businesses and cottage industries: Adam's Pizza restaurant along with Master's Bread that distributed the ashram made bread and a Sprout business at the Yoga Ranch in the 1970’s and 1980’s. These businesses not only fed the ashram with the food produced, but connected us with the local community and brought in a modest income.
- TTC scholarships for the developing world – though our Yoga teachers training courses have been offered at reasonable rates, we have always offered scholarships for students from developing countries recognizing their financial challenges.
- Teach by example – Yoga must be practical and the goal is to train practitioners rather than preachers.
- Ashram and centers with permaculture projects – More and more of our Sivananda Centers and Ashrams are developing Permaculture projects around gardening, energy conservation and waste management. Grass Valley, Val-Morin, Orleans, Trivandrum, Nassau and Woodbourne Ashrams; Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles Centers to name a few.
Most of all Yoga helps transform attitudes, habits, relationships, and the understanding of how to achieve happiness, from that of material consumerism to an appreciation for the sacred unity and beauty of life.
Yoga, Permaculture and the Dharma of Relationships
- Relationship with ourselves – health, self-respect, realizing our true nature as universal Self. Jnana Yoga is knowledge of the Self. Raja Yoga is intuitive realization of Self through controlling mind. Bhakti purifies the mind of selfishness by honoring all life as divine. Karma Yoga seeks to make ourselves happy by making others happy.
- Relationship with the planet / people – permaculture projects; peace missions; cultivating attitude of family, friends, and guests as God; creating community - (Yoga Centers and Ashrams as community); the nation, the planet; and honoring the past and future seven generations when consciously working with our needs. “Love thy neighbor as thy Self”. Sacrifice and charity as spirit in expression. Karma Yoga is the foundation of spiritual practice.
- Relationship with God - All Life is sacred (which includes all of the above relationships), but also recognizing that Spirit is the life of all Nature. Recognizing spirit in life as Siva and Shakti – Universal Consciousness and the Power of Creation. Understanding the diversity and cycles of nature through the qualities or gunas in constant change, and recognizing the balance in nature as dharma. Bhakti Yoga is devotion to Life. Jnana Yoga is realizing Sarvam Khalvidam Brahman – “All indeed is Brahman”
Yoga Ranch and Permaculture
We have been training all of our staff at the Yoga Ranch in the principles of Permaculture for the past six years when we first started offering Permaculture Design at the Yoga Ranch because we believe that Permaculture is a necessary auxiliary to the Yoga Lifestyle in this age of life out of balance.
Though this course does attract gardeners, engineers and architects who make their living with the Permaculture techniques, this course is just as relevant to anyone who wants acquire a rich toolbox for transforming their personal lives to be more dharmic and sustainable. Just as we train Yoga teachers to become good yoga practitioners, the permaculture design course is training people in knowledge to live sustainable that we have lost in our modern civilization.
Om and Prem, Srinivasan